Bonnaroo has come and gone another year. All of that anticipation, then the days and nights fly past only to find you dirty and exhausted. The mind and body are spent, yet somehow we are enlightened.
Oh to bury myself in the scene, gonzo-style, amidst their psychedelics and groove bands, deep in the campsites and among the vendors of Shakedown Street. It would make for excellent investigative journalism, a poignant critique on a culture now decades-old.
But that time has passed for this capricious journalist. Instead I play the role of observer, keenly aware of dilated pupils and the dank aroma wafting through the air, wandering through the crowd, taking in the music and people.
Bonnaroo means something different to each of us lucky enough to experience it. For an odyssey on such grand a scale, it is a very personal endeavor. Fans hand-pick their daily line-up, vendors rearrange their wares to appeal to the crowd, and even the bands get caught up in the impulsiveness.
Bonnie Raitt threw out her set list, Matisyahu was seen grooving to Radiohead after imbibing on some booze, Damian Marley strolled through the grounds casually, reminiscent of his father with a spliff in his hand and even Tom Petty was rumored to have been late getting on stage because he went out of his head for a bit.
Each person’s experience becomes his or her own.
The music was more incredible than anticipated and the vibe was relaxed and cool, a very laid back and welcoming atmosphere. This is a place where we can be ourselves or who we want to be. There is an aspect of freedom there that surpasses what we’ve come to accept in mainstream American culture.
It was liberation in the finest sense.
The people-watching was primo and they come in droves from all walks of life. The only commonality seemed to be a love for music, as their styles and ages varied. These are some of the most unique and beautiful people found around these parts, brought together by one love, with plenty of dreadlocks and tattoos blending with grey hair and freckled kids.
Over 80,000 people can be hard to fathom, at least until you look out among the campgrounds. They resembled something like an amusement park parking lot with a virtual sea of tents. There were cars from as far away as Oregon, New Hampshire, and Canada. Rows of RVs lined the paths, enthusiasts sat on tops of SUVs to catch a better glimpse of the action.
People set up tent cities that became home for the weekend, complete with hibachi grills and flat-screen televisions for some, with the less privileged sleeping under trees or cars and anywhere else they might land. The sites were cleverly named for movie characters like Camp Marcellus Wallace, Camp Chewbacca, Camp David Wooderson and Camp Ferris Bueller.
The food is cheaper on the outside and on Shakedown Street, but more creative (and often more expensive) inside of Centeroo, the fest’s main area. Within its walls, vendors provide burrito bars, smoothie stands, fresh gyros, a plethora of international foods and a variety for the vegetarians among us and, of course, Ben & Jerry’s carts everywhere you look.
I paid five bucks for the best quesadilla I’ve had in my life, packed full of spinach leaves, tomatoes, mozzarella and pesto and grilled to perfection. I ended up wearing its juices, but with delight.
Hard to imagine most of us submersed in that culture for any length of time. For the average fan, the festival is a celebration of life and music. It is a once-a-year affair to clear our heads, take in some awesome tunes and enjoy the time with friends.
For many of the vendors and fans, the music festival circuit is a nomadic existence?a constant journey to the next town, the next band, the next high. They blow glass beads and bowls in parking lots and fields, make grilled cheese sandwiches out of the backs of trucks, peddle T-shirts and hand-woven blankets?not to mention anything else you may find yourself wanting.
They do whatever it takes to venture onward.
Bonnaroo is, above all else, an escape. For the party-goers, it brings a halt to the monotony of daily life?four days of sweaty debauchery in the Southern summer sunshine. Our worlds become transformed into the dreams of Jerry Garcia, a life Ken Kesey envisioned, a place for raucous behavior comparable to Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.
At Bonnaroo, anything goes. There are no limits, no shame and something magical might happen at any moment.